Tagged: acoustic

The Svelte Veldt

Previously noted The International Nothing on their 2014 CD, The Dark Side Of Success for the Japanese Ftarri label; the twin clarinets of Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke impressed our reviewer S. Marshall with their “enclosed, extraordinarily long-winded exercises”. We’ve also encountered Kai a few times over the years, for instance in various improvising combos represented on the Mikroton label, and most oddly of all as half of The Dogmatics with Chris Abrahams. If Kai’s in the room, you can guarantee a brittle atmosphere, that much we know…and the same observation applies to The Power Of Negative Thinking (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono086), a record that you could eat like so much peanut brittle. In this project, Kai & Michael team up with Swiss bassist Christian Weber on his double bass and the German player Eric Schaefer with his drumkit. Because of this addition to the group, they call themselves The International Nothing (…And Something) for this release, acting as though all of Europe will be amused to death by this layered and intellectual in-joke.

To give you some idea of what this ingenious record is like, it seems by now Fagaschinski and Thieke are being labelled as a “psycho-acoustic” duo. What in the name of Iain Sinclair does that mean? Well, it might be something to do with their deep understanding of sound, the business of producing multiphonics through their woodwind sticks, and exploring the dark realms of “difference tones”, also called “combination tones” – the “third” tone that sometimes appears when in fact there are only two sounds being created. For further information on that phenomenon, see the studies of Giuseppe Tartini in the 18th century.

What this means is that the record is one of slow, very deliberate musical utterances. It’s as though the musicians were actors in an incomprehensible philosophical play, each given lines of enormous import to recite. Then they had to say them in a foreign language as well. And deliver them underwater. While wearing a suit of armour. And any other handicaps that spring to mind, that might obstruct ordinary, linear thinking or direct performance. It isn’t to say the music is heavy-footed; it’s just very considered. Every musical phrase might seem to arrive wrapped in quotes, but they are very beautiful phrases; not a commonplace remark in sight. When you’re occasionally rewarded with a brief harmonic passage in amongst all this stiff awkwardness and formality, it’s like a treat of sugar-coated fruits.

The only time the quartet are allowed to loosen up and have some rollicking fun is on ‘Something Went Wrong’, which anywhere else might be seen as an attempt by a school band to play Kurt Weill for an amateur production; in this context, it’s practically a relief to hear some syncopation after all that staid grace, no matter how stilted it may seem. Mind you, the bassist and drummer also get to shine on ‘We Can Name You Their Names’, which seems to be the apogee of their “Morton Feldman meets the Modern Jazz Quartet approach”. What poise…and if you want to hear what Eric Schaefer can really do to liven up the party with a pineapple (and we’re talking fragmentation hand grenades, brothers), check out ‘Lokale Gebrauche’, where his percussion stabs ring out like tiny gunshots.

From all the above, I need hardly point out how appropriate is the cover illustration, depicting each member as a wild beast of some sort, each from a different continent, and none of them doing much except standing there looking replete and fine in their various pelts. Obviously, the anteater represents one of the clarinet players, but I’m still trying to match up the other three. From 14 July 2016.

Dreamskills in the Star Clinic

Another splendid package of unusual and sumptuously-decorated releases from Eric Kinny and his Santé Loisirs label in Belgium…first is a blue seven-inch flexi disc from CE Schneider Topical & The Lentils. CE Schneider Topical is another New England weird-folk duo (we’re anticipating writing about a full-length album of theirs quite soon) comprising Christine Schneider and Zach Phillips, the latter being the head of OSR Tapes and a troubadour who has come our way before as one half of Blanche Blanche Blanche. On Four Different Hells (SL05) they turn in four immaculate acoustic pop songs with odd melodies and minimal instrumental arrangements, occasionally dropping in sweet vocal harmonies that are like an East Coast take on Brian Wilson at his most spaced-out and psychotropically damaged. We still see the lingering after-effects of those Smile bootlegs leaking into the culture…these miniaturist enigmas in song form last barely a minute or two before they disappear into the air, like the sighting of an odd dragonfly in the middle of an enchanted glade, and leave the impression of a Red Krayola fragment or even Young Marble Giants sung in American accents. Not entirely sure what The Lentils contribute here, but they seem to be the vision of songwriter Luke Csehak, come from Los Angeles and are also well represented on Feeding Tube vinyl editions. A charming little gem that sparkles for less than ten minutes… “you may spot Zach Phillips’ abusive use of musical informations.” writes Eric in an enclosed note, “but this time he only has the length of a 7” to express himself.” Christine Schneider did the cover design, executed buy kamagra cheap here by the gift of woodblock printing.


The other item is a cassette tape featuring the solo clarinet of Joachim Badenhorst. His Kitakata (SL04) includes 15 peculiar instrumentals that are both forlorn and mysterious, ringing out across the place in Japan – I think it’s the “Star Clinic” – where they were recorded. “The atmosphere was so special, it made me play like I hadn’t before”, is all the creator can tell us about an evidently highly personal experience. But his music communicates it in a very deep fashion. To add to the atmosphere, the tape includes certain interludes and field recordings, documenting simple and gentle sounds such as a water fountain, bird song, and people talking quietly. Hard to say why but it increases the overall beauty of this release 100-fold. The artwork is printed on very thin newsprint, again a woodblock creation, a very bold combination of hand-written text with a grungy half-tone photograph, which further emphasises the very human nature of this statement. Badenhorst is an important latter-day Belgian improviser and jazz musician, and we’ve encountered his work twice this year – once with Dan Peck on The Salt Of Deformation (co-released on his own Klein label), and again with Pascal Niggenkemper on the exceptional record Talking Trash. Beyond that, I can only urge you to try and seek out this touchingly beautiful and intimate personal musical statement.

Both the above from 9th June 2016. We last received items from Eric’s micro-label in 2015, see this page. I see now I’ve missed SL03, which was the cassette release by Les Dauphins Et La Science…boo hoo!

Necessary Monsters

The American duo of Hollow Deck turn in a peculiar album of songs and sounds with their Hobson’s Choice (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR239 / WEIRD EAR RECORDS WER-011), recorded in Massachusetts. Mia Friedman and Andy Allen are Hollow Deck. Allen has also appeared as Friendship Ceremonies, and is associated with other New England free noise acts, such as Guerilla Toss and Arkm Foam; both players also appeared in Survivors Breakfast, playing on a big-band jazz project of some sort by Anthony Coleman called The End Of Summer.

The present record might be described as a later strain of the “free folk” genre, admittedly a highly loose and contentious definition, but Hollow Deck’s approach is extremely fragmented and off-centred. Friedman will perform a song with the banjo and her angelic soprano voice, but the singing is extremely tentative, the melody purposefully kept vague, the lyrics are unintelligible, and the performance arrives very haltingly. I suppose it’s “folk” in as much as it’s acoustic music, and she plays a banjo, but beyond that I can’t connect the music to any known Appalachian roots, for instance; and genuine American folk singers of the 1930s, full-throated belters such as Darby and Tarlton, Grayson and Whitter, or Charley Poole, would probably be baffled as to why Mia Friedman is so hesitant about delivering her message.

Andy Allen’s contributions shift Hobson’s Choice down an even more avant-garde pathway, and he uses woodwinds, percussion, guitars, electronics and found tapes to create free-noise backdrops which are delicate, imaginative, and in places quite unexpected. On ‘Hurrah’, he uses a drum machine and some electronic pwoops to do all he can to disrupt the expected flow of Mia’s song; it’s like a mashup between Karen Dalton and Erikm. The duo also work together on more extended free-form noise scapes, such as ‘Montana Lite’ or ‘Here Is My Home’, where the emphasis is on generating something as alien as possible, but through simple under-stated means instead of “freaking out” like Egg, Eggs might do. As such, the record reminds me very much of the first two Red Krayola records, veering from delicate songcraft to bizarrely unstructured free sounds. There’s a concerted effort to derail common sense, blind-side the listener.

Some of the songs – or the same titles at any rate – appeared previously on a cassette of the same name from Friendship Tapes in 2014. This, from 8th April 2016.

To Kingdom Come

Motherland (NO LABEL) is a fine cassette of songs by the singer-songwriter duo Hanging Freud from Sao Paolo in Brazil. The team of Paula Borges and Jonathan Perez turn in six songs of a quite chilling nature, filled with dark symbolism and doom-laden accusations, bleak scenarios of conflicts and encounters where nobody is left off the hook and everyone comes out a loser. Each song appears to be pronouncing judgement on an entire country, the failure of successive generations to nurture its children, and Paula Borges intones these cold statements in a precise, matter-of-fact fashion, making her the ideal Greek chorus for these apocalyptic visions of catastrophe. “Every name will be consumed, we will never hear the truth”, she wails on ‘Lost Children’; and “I never expected these eyes to see so many horrors” she observes, like some latterday Dante, on the song ‘The South’. Clearly it’s taken years of bitter disillusionment to think herself into this particular spot.

There’s also much to recommend in the performance and arrangement of the songs; most of them may start from a simple acoustic guitar or piano framework, but there’s just the right degree of studio echo added to enhance the gloomy aspects of each ice-cold song. The production adds foreign bodies, samples, spare minimal noises thrown like lumps of grit into the wind. Each song unfolds with a relentless quality, rarely varying the chord or the rhythm, until the listener is hypnotised under the glare of a vengeful cobra. Taut, paranoid, tense; not an ounce of waste.

Motherland could be read as a successful update on the first Leonard Cohen album, itself a masterpiece of lugubrious singing, a wealth of “sad mysterious symbols” (copyright Momus) in the lyrics, and beautifully spartan musical backdrops. If you enjoy this despondent set, be sure to check out the other albums by Hanging Freud, Sunken (from 2010) and No Body Allowed (from 2015). This arrived 6th June 2016.

Bags’ Groove


Impressive and inventive improvised / jazz / composed music from Pascal Niggenkemper, a French-German bass player appearing here with his new sextet Le 7eme Continent. The album Talking Trash (CLEAN FEED CF373CD) contains a wealth of musical ideas, allowing space for free improvisation within certain grids and frames, and the attention to dynamics and tension-inspiring gaps is remarkable. Niggenkemper is well served by his fantastic team of players, including the woodwind player Joachim Badenhorst (with whom he also plays in the trio Baloni), Eve Risser and Philip Zoubek with their two prepared pianos, plus the sub-contrabass flute of Julian Elvira and the clarinet of Joris Ruhl. Notice that’s an all-acoustic line-up, although it seems the woodwind team may employ some amplification; the majority of these strange and alien noises are all generated by human action, breathing, bowing and plucking movements.

Talking Trash is a concept album of sorts, based on Niggenkemper’s reading of alarming news reports of what’s happening in the Pacific ocean these days…apparently we’re dumping so much garbage in the sea, it’s practically formed a new continent of detritus, described by a note here as “an artificial world, in the midst of the ocean, accidentally created by men” and nicknamed the Seventh Continent. “It made me think…” states Niggenkemper, reflecting on the lamentable piles of non-biodegradable plastic we’re stacking up in gargantuan proportions; and as his way of dealing with this depressing “absurd reality”, he created these compositions. It helps to draw our attention to this aspect of world pollution. But he also wanted to create a living sound-portrait, a moving painting in sound, depicting the continent of rubbish and its undulating actions. The accuracy of his snapshots is informed by a pessimistic undertone, highly critical of the horrible wastage we tolerate under advanced capitalism.

Among the many notable musical moments: ‘Gyres Oceaniques’, a striking conversation between the two pianos, one of them providing a solid percussive backdrop while the other executes wild free jazz runs and trills; dark tension and open spaces (voids and vacuums) yawn terrifyingly. ‘Plasticsphere’, a long and melancholic drone piece of understated beauty, where the harmonics of the bowed strings create an oceanic swell, dotted with minimal piano tinkles and whimpers from the woodwind section, making us weep at the imagined sight of a forlorn plastic bag drifting hopelessly in the sea. The second track, whose title is an elaborate grid reference, exhibiting the Evan Parker acrobatics of the clarinets supported by an exquisite piano figure. ‘Ideonella Sakaiensis’, a perturbed squall of a piece suggestive of a storm at sea, amply demonstrating Niggenkemper’s aim to “make this seventh continent sing, hiss, whirr, buzz and scream”.

Talking Trash is a superlative album of contrasts and tensions: abstract soundscapes alongside dense free jazz note-clusters, narrative environment-portraits, taut well-arranged and composed rhythms with free-form blowing and scraping. The sextet perform immaculately and cannot put a single foot wrong, and the recording by Christian Heck and Stefan Deistler is vivid and clear, creating a great-sounding record. Full marks and highest recommendation for this exemplary example of cutting-edge improvised-composed and well-crafted music. From 22 June 2016.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 2


Vermont Singer Ruth Garbus charmed the world with her introverted song album Rendezvous With Rama for Feeding Tube Records, a remarkably withdrawn and sorrowful statement where her shy voice was barely staining the recording tape. I loved it. Her Joule EP (OSR TAPES OSR27) is much more upbeat and could be mistaken for a singer-songwriter from the 1960s or 1970s, by a young Joni Mitchell or Linda Perhacs. Very melodic acoustic pop with a good deal more confidence in the singing, her vocals are distinctive, and her understated and ingenious harmony vocal overdubs are magical, sure to please fans of The Byrds or sunshine pop records of the 1960s. Lyrical content is quite dense and full of clever sentence construction that can trip up the listener, but I sense there’s a lot of self-determination and self-expression in among the anecdotal observations of every-day life. Well-crafted, highly enjoyable, Ruth Garbus’ work is heartfelt and sincere. Recommended.


From his Amsterdam address the singer Seamus Cater sent us his single Lunora Live (ANECDOTAL RECORDS ANEC 02). I guess this guy’s work shades into avant-folk malarkey, for instance his banjo and harmonica record with Uncle Woody Sullender called When We Get To Meeting or his records of “subterranean soul searching sad songs” with Viljam Nybacka and others, called The Anecdotes. Here on live recordings from a tour of Italy, he’s not using much more than a concertina, a harmonica, and an electric piano. For some reason Cater never really connects with me. His singing voice is distinctive, but also rather fey and mannered. The melodies he sings strike me as very ordinary, with not a single phrase that might make them memorable to the listener. Both ‘Lunora’ and ‘The Piano’ here are strewn with sad symbols in the lyrics which don’t really carry meaning across to the listener, and leave Seamus stranded alone on stage in a fixed melancholic state. Most of the folk music I like to listen to is very direct, but Seamus Cater can’t seem to get to the point. On the plus side, I suppose there is something to be said for the spartan no-frills arrangements of these songs, and the clarity of the recording. The idea behind that is something to do with presenting the “core essentials” of a song; Seamus Cater arrives here by process of subtraction. This reductive approach has presumably been applied to the cover artworks, where the lettering is barely legible and we’re left with cryptic visual riddles to decode. Arrived 5th March 2014.


Always enjoy the intense Swedish gloom and noise from Fang Bomb Records. I wish there more of it. The single by Trepaneringsritualen (FB020) we’ve had around here since 2013. It’s a collector’s item by now. Notice the religious themes in the Bleeding Jesus cover art and the titles ‘Judas Goat’ and ‘Didymus Christ’, both of them rewriting chapters of the New Testament on their own twisted terms. Spin this little sliver of blackness to enjoy two bursts of a sort of intellectualised Black Metal, where the vocals are grisly and distorted and make their moan against a complex backdrop of non-guitar sounds. It’s a brilliantly evil way to concoct a monstrous sonic murk and highly original in the context of third-division Black Metal projects with their endless guitar thrash. Trepaneringsritualen is the alias of Thomas Martin Ekelund, my favourite Swedish depressive who also used to record as Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, and runs the cassette label Beläten. On these two sides, he finds a new way to express his despair and frustration, tying it in with naked religious symbolism to express feelings of guilt, anguish, and transgression. A superb release.

A Bit of the Crust


Strata (NEITHER/NOR RECORDS n/n 004) is a very good piece of composed-conducted-improvised music played by an Ensemble of 13 musicians in Brooklyn, New York. Percussionist Carlo Costa is the leader and composer here (and owner of the fine label Neither / Nor Records) the ensemble is called Carlo Costa’s Acustica.

The history of jazz music ensembles, from Duke Ellington to Sun Ra, reveals a pattern whereby the efforts of several talented musicians can play together without getting in each other’s way; both Duke and Ra (and many others) found ways to do this, through arrangements or “charts”, or in Ra’s case perhaps through sheer charisma. Carlo Costa takes that process and slows it right down on Strata, allowing the listener to “see” the arrangements in a composition that’s so transparent that at times it’s more like reading a graph than hearing music. Even the title is calling attention to the layering process. “Layers of sound in different combinations,” is how Costa describes the work, and points out the “spare single layers” as opposed to the “densely stacked multiple layers”. Even without this information, the sheer acoustical separation that’s going on in this performance is highly marked, to say the least.

It’s much to the credit of the very able musicians here that they’re able to realise the work, which I suppose must have taken a fair amount of effort; the restraint they exhibit is audible in just about every moment, forcing themselves to keep it simple, slow, and distinctive, each note etched in sharp relief. The acoustic combinations that arise within these “stratified layers” are often astonishing; even the best orchestrator might be hard pushed to come up with combinations that are as strong. Piano notes, guitar strums, percussive beats, groans from the woodwinds and brass; every note resounds like a pistol shot, everything is key-lit to produce stark and contrasty shadows, and the entire session is fraught with an agonised tension. Costa refers to an “aural space” that’s being built up this way; there are repeated sections, and when they recur they are placed in “different contexts” and in a different location in the whole strata. In doing this, he wants to force a shift of perspective, no less.

The downside, if indeed it is one, is that in this context Acustica are not allowed to cut loose, let rip, or blast their hearts out in the same way that John Gilmore or Marshall Allen might be allowed a rip-roaring solo in any given Sun Ra set. But this is deliberate, it’s a discipline, and the music is a powerful, astringent antidote to so-called “energy” free jazz. If you’re fed up with those heavy-handed Norwegians like Brute Force charging their way into your life with their ugly and blurty take on free jazz, this restrained yet rewarding approach to music will come as a welcome relief. We might also mention at this point the superficial resemblance to the compositions of Morton Feldman (slowness, spaces and gaps, patterns, acoustic instruments), though I suspect it’s just a coincidence. The players include the wonderful Dan Peck on tuba. Be sure to investigate other releases on this label, the quality is very consistent. From 9th March 2016.

Sensitive Chaos


The fifth item from the Brooklyn free jazz / improv label Neither Nor Records is Drums Of Days (n/n 005) by Flin van Hemmen, a Dutch drummer and composer who settled in New York City about eight years ago. He’s a festival veteran, a strong collaborator, and currently works with groups such as Narcissus, While We Still Have Bodies, and LathanFlinAli. For this set, van Hemmen drums and plays piano, and he’s joined by the bassist Eivind Opsvik (another NYC resident, originally from Oslo) and the American acoustic guitarist Todd Neufeld.

From the opening track, I had the strong impression of hearing classical avant-garde music mutating into free improvisation, almost before my very eyes. This impression was not dispelled by what follows, and indeed seems to match van Hemmen’s intentions almost exactly. He would like us to be mindful of his influences such as the compositions of Morton Feldman and Charles Ives, and the improvisations of his friend Tony Malaby, the New York saxophonist (who contributes an overdub to one track). Flin works very hard at “through-composition”, and what may appear to be a completely “free” piece is more likely to have been carefully structured, where the beginning and end are known quantities and the territory is staked out in advance; the improvisations are subsumed into this structure, as are other elements such as poetry (in one case), post-production, sound-scaping, and the addition of field recordings. It’s to the composer’s credit that neither concept nor technique get in the way of the free flow of the pieces, which proceed with an organic logic without any obvious joins or jarring breaks in the programme.

I suppose “ambiguity and uncertainty” are key themes of this music. I certainly felt these as emotional states while listening. In fact I felt my very contours turning fuzzy and indistinct, and now I’m so faded and transparent you can’t make me out from the wallpaper. Each piece seems to ask a question, or a series of related questions, and never provides a clear answer. Music may be used to set the listener’s mind moving down tracks of enquiry, pondering matters metaphysical, spiritual, or purely practical. If that is the general trend of van Hemmen’s plan, he does it by proceeding quite slowly, and by leaving lots of space. By slow-moving, I mean that this is not the high-energy music of a Cecil Taylor Unit, but neither is the music so completely etherised that it stops moving altogether, like some numbed zombie beast.

This cautious movement is what gives the musicians, and us, time to absorb and consider these new ideas; perhaps it’s like exploring a new environment, taking baby steps. By “lots of space”, I’m referring in general terms to the near-skeletal precision of the music score, where each instrument is purposely showcased to allow us to hear its natural grain, and each musician’s utterance is spotlighted to an almost frightening degree. A statement almost leaps out at you from an abstract space, casting angular shadows against a white wall. The starkness of this creaky acoustic music creates a strong tension with the underlying ambiguity of it all, and such tension may account for why Drums Of Days has so many compelling moments. I can’t quite detect the “cinematic quality of the album” promised by the press notes, but that is a rather subjective description.

The composer feels he is drawing on his considerable knowledge and experience of music to draw on “genres ranging from Romanticism to minimalism, the avant-garde and Modern classical”, and at the same time is driven to “go into new territory”. The purple cover may lead you to find connections with La Monte Young (probably just a coincidence) and his sunglasses show he doesn’t lack a sense of humour. From 9th March 2016.

Understated Saccharine

Bruno Bavota

Bruno Bavota

This disc is a little unusual in that it is not the sort of thing that I would usually expect to find within The Sound Projector’s remit, but nevertheless here it is, so here goes. Mediterraneo is a highly pleasant and yet simultaneously extremely unchallenging piano and acoustic guitar music of a hyper-melodic bent. Apparently the recordings were made in total darkness, which could have been an interesting starting point conceptually, but unfortunately, Bavota sees no reason to explore the implications of such a strategy and no attempt is made to develop the idea the way others such as Yiorgis Sakellariou or Francisco López use darkness as part of their own operations.

After two fairly unremarkable pieces, the third, “Hands”, employs a chiming, delayed guitar which threatens to lead us into more interesting Mogwai-like territory, but once the piano starts, the guitar is reduced to providing reverberant swells to support the chord changes. Later, Marco Pescosolido’s cello and Paolo Sasso’s violin augment those same chord changes well and for me it is their efforts which go a long way to turning the piece round.

If a contemporary piano album could have an obvious single, track four “Who Loves, Lives” is it. It is crying out for a female pop vocal and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being sampled with a vocal line courtesy of someone like Ellie Goulding before long. Track five, “Alba”, uses a similar fingerstyle acoustic guitar progression as Kaleidophon’s Here from 1998, but where Kaleidophon deliberately left in recording and production errors as textural artefacts, Bavota’s recital on guitar here is pristine and flawless and as such maybe lacks a little interest and authority. When the distantly-recorded Steinway (a model D274, the sleevenotes inform us) kicks in, the piece improves immeasurably. Incidentally, the first cassette-radio I owned was made by a company called Alba. Moving on, the super-restrained, quiet beginning of “The Night” could almost be a Talk Talk / Mark Hollis homage until yet another endlessly repeated, tricksy little melody rudely obliterates the effect.

The nadir of the album (so far – track 7) is the title track which sounds lovely in terms of production value, but employs an annoyingly unchanging chord structure, predictable melody, and perhaps the most amount of understated saccharine I’ve ever heard in an album of popular music. I suspect these are all deliberate strategies on the part of Mr Bavota. From a record company’s point of view it ticks all the boxes; great production, skilled performances, accessible composition, but to me it’s like everything I’ve ever heard squished together into a nice neat block of “what contemporary popular piano music should sound like”, with all the fat, gristle and offal removed. Have you ever seen those vacuum packed pre-cooked half chickens you get in convenience stores? That’s what this reminds me of. Superficially beguiling but once you get stuck in, it proves to be tasteless, wan, textureless and of dubious nutritional value. By the ninth offering, “Sweet Fall”, it is obvious Bavota is aiming to plough a similar furrow in more or less every track, but he’s got plenty of diesel left. Clumping piano block chords descend for ever in to an abyss of self-satisfied cleverness. I could suggest that most nine-year-olds learning the piano could produce a similar result.

Bavota is credited as composer, arranger and with piano, guitar delay, reverb and, fashionably, field recordings. Where are these field recordings? I couldn’t actually hear any. Where were they made? Who were they made by if not Bavota himself? The press release mentions “…the sound of the autumn rain…” but I’ve not been able to spot it. Albums of this sort are probably very popular with people who hold a lot of dinner parties, but I personally felt like I was either in a motivational video for bank workers or watching a trailer for the latest Hollywood rom-com most of the time. Or listening to Coldplay Unplugged if such a thing exists. So far this year we’ve lost talent like David Bowie, Keith Emerson, Lemmy Kilmister and most recently, Prince Rogers Nelson – is this the sort of new thing we really should welcome into the pop mainstream? You decide.

Pour L’Orgue

Stefan Rusconi

On Levitation (QILIN RECORDS QILIN 011), we have an impressive team-up between two young Swiss jazz musicians, the pianist Stefan Rusconi and the violinist Tobias Preisig. They recorded it in the church of Saint Etienne in Cully, where Rusconi sat himself behind the church organ, Preisig amplified his violin, and both were assisted by the recording engineer Hannes Tumke who employed judicious close-miking to capture “the innermost parts of the instruments”. Rusconi may be more at home on the piano usually; he leads a modern jazz trio who have been making records since about 2004, some of them released on Qilin Records and Bee Jazz; and they have distinguished themselves by recording cover versions of Sonic Youth tunes, and performing with Fred Frith. Preisig’s In Transit from 2012 likewise looks like the result of an eclectic mix of influences, leading him to experiment with a Leonard Cohen cover version and a composition partly inspired by Fauré.

Over time we have at TSP received the occasional record made in a church or cathedral, quite often an improvised record or a piece of sound art. The musicians involved sometimes seem to have an agenda. In some instances they deliberately ignore any devotional or religious aspects of the building they find themselves in, and concentrate on physical matters – exploring the acoustics in a methodical fashion. In some extreme cases I have even sensed there’s an attempt to undermine established Christianity, for instance by bringing secular modern music into hallowed ground, and by extension inviting thought or comment on the restrictions of society, government, church and state. No such thoughts appear to have crossed the minds of Rusconi and Preisig, who in fact were quite respectful to their surroundings, and even felt inspired by the “atmosphere”. Their respect didn’t extend as far as their dress choice, if their t-shirts, jeans, casual shoes and baseball cap are anything to go by, but no matter. That sort of thing wouldn’t have washed in an Italian church, lemme tell ya!

Musically, I think their strongest offering is placed upfront, the opening track ‘Béatrice’. It’s about 15 minutes of delicate and wispy drone music clearly inspired by “spectral” composers, where the pair manage to create surface effects on a par with Ligeti’s micro-tonal work of the 1960s; the press notes even invite us to find comparisons with Pink Floyd, which might be something of a stretch. Via its title, ‘Béatrice’ vaguely evokes religious themes with its tangential reference to Dante; and the music retains a solemn and profound aspect throughout. I’m less impressed by the short pieces that follow, many of which are more conventional arrangements playing mix-and-match games with arpeggios, simple fugues, and clumsy attempts to build melodies; they emerge as unfinished, sketchy, and overly sentimental. Regular readers will recall how the French improviser Jean-Luc Guionnet has devoted a lot of time to learning the complexities of the church organ and developing an improvisational style that is a significant departure from conventional organ playing. Rusconi has not yet embarked on such a venture, and remains blighted by rather ordinary jazz / classical riffing.

Even if my preference is for the open-ended ethereal forms of ‘Béatrice’, ‘Mme Tempête’ is also appealing – four minutes of a stern bass drone, a mixed chord where the only variations are provided by changing the surface of the tone, perhaps through electronic means. And ‘Pour L’Orgue’ wins bonus points for its slowness and duration, probably intending to evoke a ceremonial mood as a kind of updated recessional, while keeping one eye on the works of Olivier Messiaen.

A six-panel digipak created by Paul Polaris features a graphic image clearly proposing an analogy between the organ and the human lungs and the respiratory system; another panel makes its meaning even more explicit, with an embossed golden heart. From 1st February 2016.

Preisig & Rusconi Bandcamp page